This first feature by ethnographic and documentary filmmaker Cheng Wen-tang is an ethereal, intriguing tale of alienation and yearning. The director’s poetic approach to his lonely, displaced characters brings depth to the material and should ensure at least further festival exposure and some interest from Asian TV programmers.
Cheng’s previous work explored the world of Taiwan’s aboriginal population, native islanders for whom Mandarin Chinese is not their first language and who, since 1949, have found themselves on the lowest rung of society. “Somewhere Over the Dreamland” continues to concentrate on the director’s interest in these dispossessed people.
Watan (Yu Lao Yu Gan) is an aboriginal from Formosa. He’s been bitter ever since he was crippled after falling from a scaffolding while working on a building site in Taipei 10 years earlier. He drinks too much, is unable to work and dreams of lost opportunities and, especially, the girl he had loved before the accident, but whom he hasn’t seen since. One day, literally out of the blue, a letter is delivered to him (by a mysterious postman with angel wings). Letter is to tell him that a wallet he lost 10 years ago has been found embedded in concrete. He travels to Taipei to retrieve the wallet, which contains a photograph of Rimon, his long-lost love, and he decides to try to find her. But the trail is cold; he meets people who knew her and who claimed she had many lovers, but she’s disappeared.
While Watan continues on his fruitless search, the film’s other key character is introed. Xiao Mao (Muo Tsi-yi) is an alienated youth who works in a Japanese restaurant and spends his nights in clubs and adult telephone centers. He’s as lonely and displaced as Wantan. One night, he starts to talk to a young woman, Xuen Xuen (Wu Yi-ting) who wants to tell him her story — and it’s a story very much like that of the missing Rimon.
Cheng maintains a level of intrigue and uncertainty as he explores the empty world of his characters. He is rewarded by an achingly natural performance from Yu Lao Yu Gan as the unhappy Wantan, who is crippled in both body and spirit, while the younger members of the cast are fresh in their approach to their characters.
Some viewers may find the lack of resolution to this rather mysterious story a turnoff, while others will be entranced by the gradual establishment of links between the apparently unconnected characters. Production values are assured.